Local tourism hit with more challenges
Businesses reliant on winter tourism are tackling another wave of the pandemic.
At Blue Mountain, the parking lots, village, and slopes were filled with tourists, but it was just a day trip for some.
"It has been very challenging," said Sigi Waldner, the owner of Alpine Sports.
Waldner has been running a ski and snowboard rental shop in the Blue Mountains for decades, and he says, although he has a loyal customer base, the past two winters have been slower than prior years.
"We are suffering a little. Twenty-five per cent of our business is foreign business," said Waldner.
On Monday, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada reported that the number of international tourists has led to a significant financial drop for the tourism sector due to pandemic restrictions and advisories.
"In the year before the pandemic hitting, people spent $105 billion to travel in Canada and within Canada," said Beth Potter, the CEO and President of Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
Potter says that number has been nearly cut in half during the pandemic.
She says international tourists are essential to help the industry dig out of the financial hole.
"What's really going to put us over the edge of where we used to be is when we see the return of U.S. travellers and international travellers," said Potter.
She says domestic travellers make up 80 per cent of the Canadian tourism industry. Although, she says international tourists spend more than double on average.
"On average, it's about $1,200 by comparison to about $500," said Potter.
Potter says the tourism industry has lost about 400,000 employees due to the pandemic. She noted that of every one million dollars spent by tourists, it creates 13 new jobs along with its 2% contribution to GDP.
As the tourism industry navigates the pandemic, regional health units are working to stop the spread of the emerging omicron variant.
Over the weekend, the Grey-Bruce region recorded 101 COVID-19 cases. A concerning trend that the region's top doctor says may lead to many people being infected.
"The projected numbers would indicate that many of us will be infected," said Dr. Ian Arra, the medical officer of health for Grey-Bruce.
He went on to say that there is a silver lining to the rise of the Omicron variant. According to Dr. Arra, although the new strain is highly infectious, it's less severe.
"This might indicate that we might be at the end tail of this pandemic earlier. My own projection would be two to three months," said Dr. Arra via Zoom.
As daily case numbers in the province hover around 10,000, health experts are concerned that it could lead to overwhelming hospitals because the virus is more transmissible.
On Monday, the province reported 176 people were in the ICU with COVID.
"I don't want anyone to have omicron or covid, but I do believe our health system can manage if we can keep the ICU numbers under 200," said Dr. Sohail Gandhi the past president of the Ontario health association.
Dr. Gandhi says the keys to keeping numbers low are following health protocols and getting vaccinated with a booster shot to help prevent severe illness.